In 2014, open harvest season for bay scallops along Florida's Gulf coast runs June 28 - September 24.
Annual abundance survey
Each summer, biologists assess bay scallop populations along the Gulf coast of Florida, located in open and closed recreational harvest areas (see map below). Surveys are usually initiated in June and completed before the season opens. For more detailed information on the scallop surveys, visit the Bay Scallops Research page. Scientists look at long-term trends in the abundance of scallops in both the open and closed areas and present those findings to the Division of Marine Fisheries Management.
Scientists classify bay scallop abundances into categories based on the average number of scallops per square meter (approximately 1.2 square yards). Collapsed (red) populations average between 0 and 0.01 scallop per m2; Vulnerable (yellow) populations average between 0.01 and 0.1 scallop per m2; and Stable (green) populations average between 0.1 and 1 scallop per m2. Based on the historic landings data, bay scallop abundances in Florida were likely greater than one scallop per square meter, and capable of supporting a commercial fishery. In the last 20 years, densities of one scallop per square meter or greater have only been observed at 42 of the 4,588 stations surveyed and the greatest average observed at a study site in a given year was 0.50 scallop per square meter.
Open Harvest Area
There are four study sites within the open harvest area: St. Joseph Bay (Gulf County), St. Marks (Franklin and Wakulla), Steinhatchee (Taylor and Dixie) and Homosassa (Citrus and Hernando). The graph below illustrates the average number of scallops observed per square meter in those study sites each year and how that number relates to the abundance categories. In most years, populations within the open harvest area have been Stable (green) or Vulnerable (yellow) and only occasionally Collapsed (red). Usually those state-wide population collapses can be attributed to major environmental events such as an El Niño (1998), hurricanes (2004) or tropical storms (2010). A large-scale bay scallop restoration effort was conducted from 1998–2002 near the Crystal and Homosassa rivers in Citrus County and as a result the Homosassa abundance increased substantially in 2000 and 2001. Coastal communities benefited greatly from those restoration efforts, and the Crystal River/Homosassa Springs area continues to be a popular destination during scallop season.
Closed Harvest Area
There are four study sites in the areas closed to scallop harvest: St. Andrew Bay (Bay County), Anclote (Pasco and Pinellas), Tampa Bay (Pinellas, Hillsborough and Manatee) and Pine Island Sound (Lee). The graph below illustrates the average number of scallops observed per square meter in those study sites each year and how that number relates to the abundance categories. In most years, populations in the closed harvest areas have been Collapsed (red) or Vulnerable (yellow) and occasionally Stable (green). While there has been an increase in the number of scallops observed in the closed areas during the last 10 years, likely due to a combination of management (prohibited harvest) and restoration efforts, scallop populations continue to be extremely sensitive to localized conditions and as a result suffer frequent collapses. Unstable populations take longer to recover from a collapse and have reduced reproductive success due to fewer adults available to spawn and an increased distance between them.
Scallop harvesting is very popular in Steinhatchee, Port St. Joe, and Crystal River/Homosassa Springs. The map below shows the current coastal counties where bay scallop harvest is legal (shaded area). Harvest periods, harvest locations and fishing regulations are subject to change. Before collecting bay scallops, recreational harvesters should review current rules and regulations at http://myfwc.org/fishing/saltwater/regulations/bay-scallops/.
Remember: Scuba divers and snorkelers are required to carry and display a divers-down flag. Florida Dive Flags: Rules for Divers and Boaters
Planning on going scalloping this bay scallop season? Help biologists learn more about how many bay scallops live along Florida's Gulf coast by submitting your bay scallop harvest data through our Web survey. View the article "Bay Scallop Web Survey Taps Recreational Harvesters" for more information.